Animals Inspiring Human Characters

Of course animals have inspired some of the most beloved characters in literature — Charlotte, Mr. Toad, the Cat in the Hat. I’ve never tried to create an animal character and have no plants to writet a mystery series where talking animals help their owners in their investigations. But I still find animals inspiring human characters and their descriptions.

Character Descriptions

If it fits the mindset of my point-of-view (POV) character, I can have her describe characters in terms of animals. She may be an animal lover or someone who grew up on a farm, or someone who wants to be a vet. Any of those interests would give her a convincing backstory for her to see animal traits in people. Such as:

  • “He opened his bullfrog mouth.”
  • “Her snake eyes darted to the door.”
  • “The only thing that distinguished Mr. Carlton from Dad’s prize boar was Mr. Carlton’s disheveled clothes and atrocious manners.”

An animal name is also a good way to give minor characters a “handle”, a summation of their appearance, so the readers get a quick image and move on with the story.

  • “The rat-faced man slunk along the bar.”
  • “Mouse Lady slipped up to me, apologized, and told me her boss was ready to see me.”

Revive Old Similies

Another way to let animals inspire your writing is to freshen worn out smilies. No one can use “as quiet as a mouse” without being considered a poor writer. But I can use something like “He wasn’t just as quiet as a mouse. He moved as silently as a mouse with ninja training.”

Character Behavior

My oldest loves nature documentaries. Watching animal behavior has inspired me to want to incorporate that behavior in my stories

For example, we watched a show in which a polar bear began to tear through a colony of birds that nest on the ground. He was ripping into nests and eating hatchlings. Polar bears can weigh over 1,000 pounds. The body of the birds wasn’t bigger than his head, if that. They couldn’t even begin to fight him.

So they annoyed him. The parents divebombed the bear’s head, flapping past his face., sometime delivering a glancing blow with their beaks. There were hundreds of birds. I don’t know how many participated in the defense of the nests, but they annoyed the bear so much that he left.

I can use that behavior in a variety of ways, like younger siblings getting on the nerves of their oldest brother, or elementary kids banding together to drive the junior high bully crazy.

Read more about animals as writing inspiration here.

How can animals inspire human characters in your writing? What animals have you known that have inspired stories?

Writing Tip — Animal-Inspired Characters

great-blue-heronw-744257_1280Of course animals have inspired some of the most beloved characters in literature — Charlotte, Mr. Toad, the Cat in the Hat. Although my characters are people, I still find animals as writing inspiration.

Because my main character Junior in my YA novel lives in the mountains of West Virginia, he is more attuned to nature than many 16-year-old Americans. This aspect of his personality allows me describe other characters in comparison with animals. This helps my writing in two ways: first, it assists the reader in getting inside the head of my main character, and second, it gives the reader a “handle”, a short description she can grasp quickly.

When Junior says a man reminds him of a giant toad, that’s a handle that immediately carries with it a certain image to each reader. ┬áIt also tells the reader something about how Junior thinks of the man.

Animals can inspire human characters in other ways. Where I live, lots of turkey vultures make their home here between March and November. Lots of them. If I spot the outline of a large bird in the sky, 9 out of 10 times it’s a vulture, or buzzard, as I like to call them. I would love to build a minor character on the appearance of a buzzard. A narrow, reddish, bald head protruding from hunched shoulders. The character would have to wear something black and bulky, like a sweater, to imitate feathers.

Or a character based on a great blue heron. I’ve seen many of these on the river near my home. They walked in a stilted gait and can remain so still, that it’s hard to believe they are alive. Then when they see a fish, they flash into action. I can see a very thin character with a very deliberate but awkward way of walking. Also the character would be quiet and still, not drawing attention to herself until she needs to.

Comparing people to birds would be perfect for a main character whose hobby was bird watching. Or if you have a main character who is crazy about dogs, he could see people in those terms. A woman who is “as regal as an Afghan hound” or “beautiful and vacant as an Irish setter.” A small child whose constant questions were “as incessant as the yipping of a Chihuahua.”

How have animals inspired your writing?

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